Cosmos Remake Didn’t Let Us Down

Cosmos party at Amy’s house.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you’re the type that thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Cosmos last night. (If you missed it, watch it here). It had an estimated 5.8 million viewers. How cool is that??!?

The show opened with Neil deGrasse Tyson taking us on a tour of the solar system in an updated version of the Ship of the Imagination (much cooler than the 1980 version). The show also included the story of Giordano Bruno, the first man to see a vision of a limitless universe. The Cosmic Calendar followed, which started with the big bang and put the timeline of our universe into perspective.

Needless to say, Amy and I really enjoyed the show. To commemorate the event, we threw a Cosmos Party that included our respective spouses. Chocolate wine, strawberries, cheese, homemade cookies, chips – all on a table that usually holds our star charts and binoculars. Who says astronomy is boring??

It turned out that Cosmos wasn’t the only spacey thing going on last night, either. As soon as Cosmos ended, the local PBS station aired Apollo 17: The Untold Story of the Last Men on the Moon.

We also peeked in on a live web cast from, who was tracking asteroid 2014 CU13 from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. This asteroid, approximately 623 feet wide, whizzed by us today about 1.9 million miles (a mere eight times the distance between the Earth and the moon). Slooh hoped to draw attention to the asteroid so amateur astronomers will help efforts to pinpoint its orbit.

A good time was had by all, and it was nice to do some indoor astronomy for a change. Hope you got all of Amy’s tweet’s during the show!


Remember John Dobson

John Dobson and me at the NCRAL in Green Bay.
John Dobson and me at the NCRAL in Green Bay.

I just read the sad news that a wonderful man, John Dobson, has passed away. John Dobson was the founder of the Sidewalk Astronomers and the creator of the Dobsonian mounted telescopes. He loved astronomy, but his greatest love was sharing the night sky with anyone who would look through his telescope.

In 1956, after he built his first telescope he was so fascinated by what he saw that he thought “Everybody’s got to see this”.  This must have started his lifelong quest to bring astronomy into backyards everywhere!

I had the honor of meeting him at the NCRAL meeting sponsored by my astronomy club. I was very new to the club and to astronomy in general. I didn’t know who our distinguished guest speaker was! I knew that everyone was very excited to have him here so I was curious as to who he was and what his talk would be about.

I had the opportunity to talk with him for a few minutes prior to our meal. I got the sense that he wasn’t all that comfortable being the center of attention. He didn’t see himself as someone special. He was just a man who truly loved astronomy!

His talk was about the Double Slit Experiment, which I don’t understand anymore now than I did then. I was fascinated by him and all that he had accomplished.

Handout from the NCRAL

The world of astronomy is definitely a better place because of him. His passion was contagious!

March 8th is the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night. Please help to honor the life of John Dobson by making plans with your local astronomy club, or with your own group of star gazers to share the amazing night sky with others. Bring your binoculars, your telescopes or just your knowledge of constellations.

Thank you John Dobson for your kind heart and your passion for astronomy. You will be missed.


A Trip to Mars

An actual piece of Mars rests on my lap during a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum. I was so nervous someone had to hold me!

Could their be a more exciting way to kick off my new collaboration with the Astro Babes than to bring you photos of an actual piece of Mars?!

On Sept. 24, I accompanied the Astro Babes to a lecture in Madison that was part of the “Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind?” exhibit that hopes to excite public curiosity about astrobiology research at UW-Madison. A presentation entitled “How to build an Astrobiology Exhibit in 1,272 Easy Steps” was followed by a reception in the museum that not only featured a piece of Mars, but a rare opportunity to hold a piece of it in your hands.

The main attraction for this event was a viewed fall of the Tissint meteorite that is thought to have broken off the Red Planet around 700,000 years ago and witnessed landing in Morocco in 2011.

Here I’m looking at the 700,000-year-old piece of Mars that the museum recently acquired. This is one of the five rare observed falls from Mars.

The collector that sold this piece to the museum also lent a piece to the museum that lecture attendees could hold in their hand. Unlike most meteorites found on Earth, this piece was very light and had no real fusion crust. It was identified Martian by testing the “atmosphere” that was trapped inside air pockets in the rock.

NASA funds the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium and other teams to develop new tools and methods for detecting evidence of past life on Earth. This research will then help scientists recognize signs of life in other places such as Mars or Titan because we won’t find any dinosaur bones there.

Martian rocks are a rarity here on Earth today, but I plan to personally bring back many more rocks for research on my first round-trip mission to Mars.

By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent

New Member of the Team

barbie-head-shotThe Astro Babes want to welcome a new guest correspondent to our team! Barbara Millicent Roberts, an astronaut and notable Martian expert from Willows, Wisconsin, will be sharing her expertise in future blogs on our website.

Often referred to as “Mars Explorer Barbie,” Ms. Roberts officially began her assignment in collaboration with NASA in August. Her assignment coincided with the first anniversary of NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars.

The Astro Babes want to express their gratitude to Ms. Roberts for agreeing to act as our official Mars Correspondent, and we look forward to her contributions in the near future.

Asteroid 2013 LR6

Yes folks, another close shave. I can’t help but wonder why we’re finding so many of these NEOs lately. Is it because we’re finally taking the time to look? Or are people finally interested because of the near misses this year? Just something to think about.

Asteroid 2013 LR6 Orbit

Asteroid 2013 LR6 is smaller than QE2, about the size of the meteorite that exploded over Russia. The scary thing for me is that we just found this one on June 6th. That gives us a two day heads up. That’s just not enough time.

This one came in closer that the moon, at about 69,000 miles from the earth, whizzing by at 9.8km per second. It was first spotted by the Catalina Sky Survey. Lynn already took a sobering look at the business of searching for and dealing with these potentially hazardous space rocks so I won’t get into that.



Maybe Next Year

Over the weekend, Amy celebrated yet cake another birthday. In an effort to keep things uncomplicated in the past, we’ve acknowledged each other’s momentous occasions by simply going out for lunch. It usually includes Chinese food.

This year I thought about splurging and getting her something a little more spectacular. Sure, it is a little pricey, but what Astro Babe wouldn’t appreciate being one of the first 1,000 to get a ride on SpaceShipTwo?!? Nothing like speeding along in space at 2500 mph to get your heart rate up.

However, I read this morning that after the first 1,000 people have taken a ride, Richard Branson is planning on dropping the price from $250,000 down to $200,000. Not one to waste money, I guess that means that Amy will have to wait until next year. This year, she’ll have to once again settle for a card and a birthday lunch with chopsticks.

Sorry Amy. In the meantime, Happy Birthday! And have some cake!


A whole new perspective

Orion tilted on his side.
Orion is lying down on the job in the Cayman Islands.

Two weeks ago, I found myself 2000 miles closer to the equator (and 80° F warmer) than I am today. And I understand that this was a tremendous opportunity to take in the night sky from a whole new perspective. But, as Robert Burns put it, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

While packing, I spent as much time as I could spare looking around in Stellarium, Sky Safari, and on Google. I even packed my trusty binoculars. But the one clear night in Cayman that I had a chance to look up, I realized I wasn’t nearly ready enough.

It’s cold here in Wisconsin. In fact, it’s 1° F as I’m writing this. And to be perfectly honest, this kind of weather doesn’t inspire me to do a lot of observing. So it was unfortunate that a good grasp of our current sky in Wisconsin was exactly what I needed in order to appreciate what I was seeing in Cayman.

When I looked up from Seven Mile Beach that night, I saw Jupiter and Gemini and Cassiopeia and Auriga. Nope. The sky just didn’t look all that different. But as I continued to get my bearings, once again my old pal Orion saved the day.

When I come home at night this time of year, Orion’s there to greet me. Facing east as I unlock my door, he’s high above me standing on his feet, watching over me. But in Cayman, it was a whole different story. Orion was lying down on the job. Literally. He was nearly horizontal.

That in itself was pretty exciting, but I didn’t want it to be the sum total of my observing session while I was only 450 miles north of the equator. I had high hopes of locating something I couldn’t see from my own backyard.

Two constellations rise on the southern side of the island and are never visible in Wisconsin – Crux (the Southern Cross) and Centaurus. Unfortunately, I was on the northwest side of the island, and no one was willing to drive me south at 3 a.m. (although I did momentarily consider attempting to drive myself on the left side of the road. Probably not a good idea).

But there was one other southern circumpolar constellation available to me there close to the horizon. I found Canopus, the brightest star in Carina. Canopus is a supergiant that is the second brightest star in the night-time sky after Sirius, and has a visual magnitude of -0.72. Although Carina itself was buried in the lights of George Town and the haze that had settled over the ocean, Canopus was high enough and bright enough that there was no doubt. It was white and bright and beautiful.

Next year when I travel down there again, I hope to take more of a perspective with me so that I can appreciate how skewed the sky looks when I’m only 450 miles north of the equator. Plus, I’m gonna drag my son’s butt out of bed and make him drive me to the south side of the island. Crux is a treat I don’t want to miss again!


Are you kidding me?

So – I took today off of work for two reasons. One – it’s my daughter’s 23rd  birthday and I wanted to spend the day with her. And second -I needed to dot that analemma.  (Yes in that order!) I’ve spent the last nine months working on the Analemma program, diligently observing and marking the length of the shadow of the sun. My figure 8 is nearly complete.

Today was a must have on the chart because this observation is used in some of the calculations. So yesterday we get snowstorm Brianna! We’re talking white out conditions and wind gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Schools close, buses don’t run, no tow trucks venture out.

This was not the first time the weather hasn’t cooperated with an observing session. Wisconsin weather has a habit of doing that, but no worries, tomorrow’s another day – um, maybe I should check the forecast!

On the up side – I got some Christmas shopping done and had a great day with my daughter!


New Nebula Found!!

I’ve discovered a nebula! A bright, annoying glow that obscures the night sky in the fall. It’s magnitude varies, with the brightest nights coinciding with – football.

Yes, it’s the Lambeau nebula. It’s always been there, but lately it has increased in annoyance. To help all those fans in the nosebleed section see the game, they’ve installed a new scoreboard in the south end zone that looms above the stadium. The thing is that it has a jumbo-tron on it that the astronauts on the ISS must be able to see. I mean really, does the entire northern hemisphere need to see the play by play?

Geeeesh, it’s a good thing I actually like football. I am a Packer fan after all, so I’ll have to learn to live with the minor inconveniences that go along with living near the stadium.

Maybe I can get them to schedule their night games when there’s a full moon. The night sky’s already lit up then.

I’ll bring it up at the next shareholders meeting. I’m sure they’ll listen to me!

What do you think?


Going high tech

Asteroid Vesta

Last week, One-Minute Astronomer  alerted us to the fact that an asteroid would be easily visible in binoculars, easy to locate in Taurus, and bright enough at a 6.4 magnitude to reach near naked-eye visibility. That’s all it took for the Astro Babes to grab our binoculars and drive out to a dark spot this weekend.

Amy and I went in search of Vesta, first found by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. It’s a little smaller than the state of Arizona, is the second largest known asteroid in the asteroid belt, and is big enough to be considered a protoplanet. It reached its opposition on Dec. 8 and was very bright.

And, as usual, the hilarity ensued. After all these years of observing you’d think it would come a little easier, but somehow we always manage to turn it into a slapstick comedy routine. To make a long story short, we printed out some star charts and drove to and observed from two dark spots east of Green Bay, only to find when we got back to my place that we’d been looking at the wrong object. We did, however, make our final (and correct) observations right here from my driveway, but this time, we used technology.

When you observe with binoculars (which is primarily what Amy and I do) you lose your target every time you look away to study a star chart. There’s a lot of potential to lose your way, accompanied with a twinge of doubt that you actually saw your target.

But this time we started with a laptop and the free Stellarium program to get our bearings. Then, in the driveway, we used my new tablet and the Sky Safari Plus program, and adjusted its Finder Circle to 7° to match the field of view in our binoculars. We were able to zoom in and out on the neighboring star patterns until there was no doubt that we were observing our target

After struggling all these years with books and star charts, it’s so nice to have such powerful astronomy tools available that weigh just a few ounces and don’t require a marine battery to make them run. Makes you wonder what’s in store for the next 20 years.


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